Growing older is never easy. We see the common outward signs of age – wrinkled skin, gray hairs, and a less-toned physique – signs we’ve come to expect. As birthdays come and go, intellectually, we know and understand these typical changes will occur. Everyone ages uniquely, some faster than others, often dependent on lifestyle habits and genetics. We can fight crow’s feet with Botox or graying roots with bottled hair dye, but the truth is still there underneath these panaceas.
But what if you’re aging too fast? What if you’re having “aging” signs indicative of a more concerning health condition than appearance? Would you know the signs and what you can do to slow it down?
Here are signs of aging that should be discussed with your healthcare provider. It’s best to address these issues earlier than later to make necessary changes to slow their progression:
Waking up regularly with a dry, cotton-mouth feel is unpleasant and abnormal. In addition, a tongue that feels thick or dry, along with a dry or sore throat, must be investigated. Xerostomia is a term used for dry mouth caused by insufficient saliva being produced by the salivary glands in the mouth.
A dry mouth is a factor for poor nutrition and dental complications like gum disease, tooth loss, cavities, and a decreased sense of taste.
There are several reasons for causing dry mouth. If you are a mouth breather or have allergies, that would make the most sense. But other causes for xerostomia can include the following:
- Certain medications, especially if taking multiple medications
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome – an autoimmune disease mostly seen in postmenopausal women
- Cancer therapy
- Sleep apnea
- Recreational drug use
There are several home tips on alleviating dry mouth that, include the following:
- Staying well-hydrated
- Eating foods with a high-water content, such as fruits and vegetables
- Sucking on ice chips
- Chewing sugar-free gum
- Chewing thoroughly before swallowing
- Refraining from alcohol and caffeine
A thorough discussion with your doctor of the frequency, when it began, and specific symptoms can help get a proper diagnosis of the root cause of dry mouth.
Bloodshot or Red Eyes
It’s easy to assume occasional bloodshot, red eyes are due to spending too much time staring at a computer screen, seasonal allergies, or lack of sleep. However, consistently red, bloodshot eyes can also be a sign of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, of which one in four people with this disease will have eye problems at some point.
Most of us think of arthritis as inflammation of the joints. However, inflammation associated with arthritis may also damage the eyes leading to various vision problems. Some sufferers of arthritis may develop scleritis, which can thin the sclera or eye wall, causing red eyes, deep eye pain, and light sensitivity. Uveitis is another arthritis-related eye condition. This occurs when the uvea – the layer of tissue between the retina and sclera, including the iris – becomes inflamed. Eye pain, light sensitivity, and blurry vision are symptoms of uveitis. Arthritis patients who use corticosteroids may develop glaucoma that increases eye pressure that damages the optic nerve resulting in vision loss.
Anyone experiencing red, bloodshot eyes regularly or with arthritis should have a complete eye exam with their ophthalmologist. They can recommend the best course of action depending on which vision problem a person has.
Weakness or Difficulty When Climbing Stairs
If you’ve noticed a feeling of physical heaviness or weakness making it difficult to climb stairs, go see your doctor instead of chalking it up to getting older. The underlying cause could be a condition called peripheral artery disease or PAD.
PAD is a common condition affecting 8 to 12 million people in the U.S. This vascular disease causes arteries in the lower extremities (legs and feet) to narrow due to plaque buildup reducing blood flow to this area of the body. This reduction in blood circulation can cause leg weakness while climbing stairs, making other daily activities, such as exercise, more difficult to do. Another concern of PAD is the increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in which a blood clot may develop in a deep vein within the legs.
PAD and DVT can be managed and treated, but it may become life-threatening if not addressed. Don’t assume leg pain is due to arthritis. Arthritis will affect joints, not cramping within the leg muscles. Because PAD may not have symptoms until the later stages, managing high blood pressure and cholesterol is important, adopting healthy eating and exercise habits, not smoking, and get checked for venous insufficiency and plaque buildup.
Occasional constipation is considered common. But chronic, long-term constipation is uncomfortable and may indicate a more concerning underlying cause. A common definition of chronic constipation is having infrequent bowel movements or difficult-to-pass stools that persist for several weeks or longer. Being ‘constipated’ generally refers to having fewer than three bowel movements weekly.
In case you’re not sure if you have constipation, signs of constipation may include:
- Having lumpy or hard stools
- Straining to have bowel movements
- Feeling like there’s rectal blockage inhibiting regular bowel movements
- The feeling of incomplete emptying of stool from the rectum
- Needing to use your hands to press on your abdomen or use a finger to remove stool from the anus to empty the rectum
Possible causes of constipation other than lack of fluids, fiber, exercise, or certain medications, include:
- Colon cancer
- Rectal cancer
- A blockage of the intestines ( bowel obstruction)
- Small tears in the skin around the anus (anal fissure)
- Narrowing of the colon (bowel stricture)
- Other abdominal cancers press on the colon
Neurological causes affecting nerves necessary for muscles in the colon and rectum to contract and move stools through the intestines might include Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or Stroke
First, try lifestyle changes such as drinking plenty of fluids, including more high-fiber foods such as beans, vegetables, fruits like raspberries, and whole grains. Also, become more physically active and don’t ignore the urge to pass a bowel movement. If these measures are not working, see your healthcare provider for a thorough physical exam, a review of medications, and any lab work that may find the cause of your constipation.
Walking Speed has slowed
If you or someone else has noticed your stride has slowed down considerably, it may be a sign of accelerated aging and the health issues that come with it. That’s because a study in JAMA Network Open found that walking speed at age 45 can indicate a person’s physical and neurological aging.
Walking may seem second nature, but it requires the interplay of many different organ systems simultaneously, including bones, heart, lungs, muscles, vision, the nervous system, and the brain. Reduced walking speed may indicate advanced aging and deteriorating organ function.
Researchers found that gait speed is not only an indicator of aging but also an indicator of lifelong brain health. Data from the study showed that participants with the slowest average gait compared to those with the highest had an associated “poor physical function at midlife.” A slowed walking speed associated with accelerated aging represented not only the rapid deterioration of organ systems but also facial aging and structural brain changes. People who walk slower, age faster than fast walkers.
The study suggested that measuring gait speed earlier in life may be beneficial. Measuring gait speed should be used in more healthcare settings as a simple, inexpensive tool for well-being during adulthood. By knowing a person’s gait speed throughout their life, it may be possible to aim at preventing the onset of age-related diseases, particularly if the focus is on improving physical fitness – cardiovascular health, diet, blood pressure, and exercise.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.